If you’ve been Japan for more than 5 seconds and had any interaction with the opposite sex here, you’ll no doubt have already experienced some “Lost in translation” style mishaps from smashing against the language barrier and cultural differences. Japanese culture is at times pretty much the exact reverse of western culture. How can you tell if a girl/guy likes you in a country where ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’? Or read peoples’ emotions where pretty much no-one wears their heart on their sleeve? And how do you interact with a nation of shy people who always seem to have their head down and nose buried in a book/iphone game?
Fear not, scratch your head in bewilderment no longer – as myself, Grace (famous for her “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy” story) and Martin of Asian Dating Monthly have put our heads together and distilled our combined two decades of Japanese dating experience to bring you these top tips, which will help you navigate the seas of romance in Japan.
1. The Easiest Place to Meet Friendly Japanese (Girls)
Japan punts itself as being a very “homogenous” country. The vast majority (upwards of 90%, I’d say) hardly have the opportunity to interact with non-Japanese unless they travel overseas. At the same time, like folks in most other developed countries, Japanese people have been inundated with media from America and are avid travelers.
They are equally interested in Europe, and other parts of Asia like Taiwan, Thailand and Korea. However, because so few foreigners live in Japan, their best chance of meeting one in their normal lives is if they get lucky enough to have a native English (or other language) speaking teacher in junior high or high school.
Many people will even go to English Conversation schools in the hopes of making foreign friends. As a guy looking to meet Japanese girls who are looking to meet foreign guys though, your best bets are what are called “International Parties” and “Language Exchanges”.
“International Parties” are parties organized specifically to bring foreigners and Japanese folk together and give everyone the opportunity to meet and interact in a safer environment than clubs or bars provide, and are much more relaxed events that are usually held on Friday or Saturday evenings, with some events earlier in the afternoon.
Many of the organizers also run other kinds of seasonal events as well. You can usually find the events by doing a Google search for Tokyo international parties, with events like this popping up regularly, but it probably won’t be long before you get invited to one via Facebook. Cheapos will be pleased to hear that many of them include a buffet which is almost worth the (typically around 2000yen) entry fee.
The other really easy way to meet Japanese girls is through Language Exchanges. These are one-on-one meets where you practice speaking Japanese with a native while they practice speaking English/French/German/Italian/Korean/etc with you. Not surprisingly, many Japanese girls/guys who are interested in practicing a foreign language are also quite interested and open to dating a guy/girl from that country.
Many times it’s a lot more like a coffee date than a language exchange. You can find a language exchange partner in the classified section of many of the local English language magazines and there are a few sites specifically for finding a language exchange partner, e.g. Conversation Exchange or My Language Exchange. Also there are language exchange groups on Meetup.com, which are usually like a cross between language exchange and international parties. As usual, exercise caution when arranging to meet strangers via the internet!
With all the (bored?) housewives in Japan, apparently Ashley Madison is quite popular here. In general I’m always reluctant to recommend online dating to guys (the statistical chances of success are usually terrible for the average man), however there’s a few Japan focused dating sites where the “interracial appeal” may balance the odds a little, and of course there’s the Tinder app for some quick swipe action.
For more detail and other ideas for meeting Japanese girls and guys in Tokyo that we covered in the “cheap sex” post: matsuri (festivals), exhibitions, events and house parties.
1.5 And to meet Japanese Gentlemen (well, guys)
A. “English Lessons.” Websites like Hello Sensei (etc) let you teach English by offering lessons under the table. You upload a picture, closest station, and price. About ⅔ of the men I “teach” English to don’t ask for a second lesson once they find out I’m married. Two other friends started dating guys they met at English lessons. It’s like you get paid for short speed-dating.
B. Import shops. Men always seem to hit on foreign women at import stores.
C. Clubs. Be careful, most the guys you meet here are married (or otherwise taken) and just looking for the “American” experience (if you know what I mean).
D. Walk around Shibuya and make eye contact with men, trying to get nanpa-d. You would be surprised by how well this works.
Fun Cheapo Fact: In Japan it’s not uncommon for singles to spend hundreds of thousands of yen on “konkatsu” (婚活) or marriage hunting services! However we don’t think you need to allocate more than a few hundred yen for your dating budget 🙂
2. In Japan, Often “Yes” Means “No”, and Silence means “Yes”
Japanese tend to be very agreeable and don’t want to “rock the boat” or make people feel bad/uncomfortable. As a result, a lot of times their communication can be unclear or vague. And in fact, this vagueness, or “aimai” in Japanese, is a well-studied trait in Japanese communication which is designed to be somewhat ambiguous to preserve the “wa” or harmony.
Japanese are especially uncomfortable with really assertive styles of communication and easily feel bullied, so will often seem to be saying “yes” even when they mean no. You’ll commonly notice this with service staff who despite the rigidness of most Japanese systems rarely give you a hard “no” to any request. They’ll often resort to saying something like, “That would be very difficult.”
On the reverse side, you won’t often know when you get a real yes. This comes through in dating because Japanese girls are really flaky and often cancel at the last minute. However, often times that’s because you mis-read her yes as a no. This tendency is often infuriating for newcomers to Japan but with time, you’ll work it out. NB: In our experience Japanese guys are far less likely to flake on dates.
Japanese women tend to want to look, feel and be their best whenever they are on a date so expect cancellations when weather is bad or when she’s in a bad mood, or tired. Of course you often won’t know the answer, but always be prepared for the “dotakyan” or last minute cancellation, especially on first dates.
There’s a trick question I often tell my (dating) clients:
Q: When do you know if a Japanese girl will go on a date with you?
A: When she shows up!
So, plan accordingly.
If you’re a woman, you might have to suggest the first date. Men assume foreign women are more outgoing and direct (which sucks when you aren’t). It’s ok to ask to hang out “as friends” knowing that y’all are more than “Just friends.”
3. Cross the Language Barrier with All Guns Blazing
Approaching – use a lot of facial expressions and gestures, be animated – engagement without just language!
A really common mistake that most guys make when they communicate cross culturally is they think their subtle, razor sharp wit and wordplay will impress. Unfortunately, just getting the basic meaning across can be challenging enough.
You already know how important it is to keep communication simple, but in addition you want to make it interesting enough that even with no words at all, it’s worth paying attention to. You never know how big the language barrier is, and where exactly the gaps in vocabulary and grammar are, so let your gestures and facial expressions do as much of the work for you as possible.
Paul Eckman discovered that facial expressions for happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, disgust are universal across all cultures all around the world. Use this to your advantage to communicate more meaning by exaggerating your facial expressions.
Use gestures like a mime to act out what it is you mean as much as possible. Not only does it make the interaction more fun, but it means that she’ll have to work less hard to understand you and that means she’ll be much more willing to engage with you and to meet you again.
“Lip my stocking Mr Harris”
4. The First Part Is the Easy Part
While Japanese society is relatively open about sex, it is still not usually an end in and of itself. For Westerners (minus a subset of Christian fanatics), it’s often the case that once a girl and a guy like each other, sex is a fairly straight forward proposition. Women are often just as interested in consummating the relationship as men.
Not nearly as true for Japanese women.
Japan, despite is apparent modernity, is a traditional culture. There was no real sexual revolution with women burning their bras and demanding that they be able to sleep around freely without judgement. A lot of books, movies, and other media still give the impression that sex is just about physical release.
For some Japanese women, there is a divide between sex for pleasure and sex deployed for specific purposes, be it, locking down a boyfriend, satisfying the husband, or creating children. The role of sex has a lot to do with the relationship between the people involved.
In practice what this means is that just because a Japanese girl likes you, even if she likes you a lot, that doesn’t mean that sex is in the cards and that certainly doesn’t mean that she’s going to make it easy for you. Liking a guy often isn’t enough of a reason to have sex with him.
(For tips on maintaining your sexual health—read our guide on STI testing and where to get condoms/dental dams in Tokyo.)
5. (Guys) Get Used to Doing the Heavy Lifting
Lead a lot more strongly—guys always approach, girls won’t initiate phone calls or messages etc.
Japanese girls will never call you, message you, ask for your number, suggest a meet, or do anything else that implies that they are interested in you other than be good company. I’m exaggerating a bit, but the point still stands that if you expect those things, then many a Japanese girl will slip through your fingers.
In the West, dating is far more a mutual thing. Japan is still a traditional place and most girls would be embarrassed to seem obvious about their interest. Does this mean that you’ll have many a Charlie Brown and Lucy moment when you’ll go to kick to ball only to have it yanked away at the last minute?
But that’s all part of the fun. There’ll be another girl waiting for you to kick it just behind her, so don’t worry about it.
6. It’s Okay to be a “nice guy”, aka The English Gentleman
Whilst back home you might be used cheeky and brazen getting you more smiles than just being a nice guy, “The foreign gentleman” is generally well received amongst Japanese women.
As a foreigner, one of the values you bring is that you’re not Japanese. Surprise, surprise! But part of that, is the idea of “Ladies First”. It’s dying a slow death in the West as pulling out a chair, or opening a door for a lady can be construed as telling her that she’s not capable of doing it on her own. But “Ladies First” never really made much of an appearance here in Japan at all.
Men fawning over ladies is totally foreign to the Japanese female experience, and greatly welcomed. Many Japanese women take it as fundamental that men and women are different and rather than taking it as an affront, they take it as nothing more than a sign of attention and caring.
So break out all those moves your mom taught you when you were a kid that don’t actually work back home. Japanese girls will be shocked and appreciative.
On the flipside, for foreign women in Japan the “Japanese Gentleman” can seem a very rare species indeed.
7. Feign being lost and end up on a date (“lost puppy pick up”)
As a foreigner, you have some easy opening lines to start a conversation in pretty much any time or place:
- “How do you read this kanji?”, showing smartphone to the girl sat next to you on the train/cafe
- Asking directions to a famous landmark, the station etc
- Asking directions to a specific (or invented) cafe/shop
Often you’ll find the person you ask will be happy to continue the interaction, and in the case of asking directions quite possibly take you all the way there.
8. Take a Muffin with your Coffee
Cafes are a great place to meet new people, especially ladies. Generally people are in leisure mode in cafes, even those doing some study or work, so it’s good place to catch people who have time for a chat. If there person next to you is studying English or reading an English language book, then that’s a conversation just waiting for you to start.
9. Watch out for people looking for a token “foreign” gf/bf
Some peeps want a “hot” boyfriend/girlfriend to show off to their friends. Nothing wrong with this, just make sure y’all are on the same page.
10. Dates, Dates, Dates
- “Blame it on the weather” cancellations from Japanese girls are common (if weather is bad, especially if she’s a long way away)
- Don’t pay for the lady (Japanese girls are generally pretty wealth with their Louis Vuitton bags etc), so if you’re a cheapo then save your pennies for your kids once you’re married.
- So for (guys) paying the bill, lead the way and just tell the girl what to pay for her share, e.g.
“Give me 700yen” if the bill is 1700yen.
- And for girls, let your man treat you. A lot of Japanese men find it embarrassing to pay separately (especially if y’all have been dating for a while). If you feel bad, you can try to slip them 1000yen (etc) later.
Some cheapo luxury date ideas:
Offer to cook for them (pick up stuff at the import shop on sale, cook, and make something “foreign”)
Go to an expensive restaurant… at lunch. Typically much cheaper.
Tell them you want to be a bartender and invite them over to your place for some exotic, foreign cocktails.
NB: Japan is a place where people don’t often socialise at their own private home, so being at home with a date is a pretty strong signal that things could go further.
Other cheap date ideas
- Rent electric bikes and explore the city together (let them be your guide)
- Meet at a small, local park near your house (saves $$$ on train ticket)
- Do an all-nighter at Round 1 (expensive, but lots of fun)
- Pick up badminton rackets and/or frisbee and the 100yen shop and hang out at a local park
- The 1st and 14th(only at Toho) of the month movies are 1,000yen, (here are some more cheap cinema tips for Tokyo)
- Go to Karaoke on weekdays, during the day (cheaper than weekends & evenings)
- Order a bento from a bento shop, bring a bottle of cheap wine, and have a picnic in the park
- Go on a date on rowboats e.g. Ueno, Inokashira and park (rental is cheap)
- French cafes and eateries will be considered romantic by Japanese
- Try our Daikanyama walking tour
And for further reading, check out our article on the what’s, the where’s and the how’s of nightlife, lovelife and sex in Tokyo.